Bringing people together: Special Olympics Rally with the Rapids game returns


GVL / Justice Steiner

Justice Steiner, Staff Writer

For the first time since 2019, the annual Rally with the Rapids Special Olympics basketball game was back in action after having the event canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. The game is organized and run by students at Grand Valley State University in the sports management program. 

It is a part of a yearly project for the Sport Facility and Event Management class, which is taught this year by professor Jon Coles.

“I give all of the credit to the kids,” Coles said. “They are the ones who did all of the work to set it up, organize, and run it.”

One of those students in charge was Keegan Strnad, a student director for Rally with the Rapids. 

“Ever since we were told about this project at the beginning of the year, it (the goal) was always to make the athletes happy,” Strnad said. “To see all of the smiles on their faces today was just a dream come true because that’s the least we could do for them.” 

Also helping support the event was the GVSU dance and cheer teams, as well as the pep band. These groups helped spread awareness, support the athletes, and bring energy to the event by cheering and performing throughout the game. The support the teams brought not only made the athletes feel good, but the teams supporting them as well. 

“I think it means a lot, like a great deal to them (the athletes), as well as it does to us,” said GVSU dance team captain Alaina Combs. “It makes us feel super good and I think it makes them feel super happy and excited just as much as it does for us.”

Competing in the game was Area 12, which is athletes from the Grand Rapids area, facing off against Area five, which features athletes from the Big Rapids area. 

Prior to the start of the game, the cheer and dance teams made a tunnel for the athletes as the two teams were introduced with the lights shut off and the classic Chicago Bulls theme song playing, SIRIUS by The Alan Parsons Project. 

As for the game, the teams played in four eight-minute quarters with a running clock. Big Rapids ended the first quarter with a 6-4 lead.

The back-and-forth continued in the second quarter as Big Rapids went into halftime holding a slim 12-8 advantage over Grand Rapids. 

However, Big Rapids went on a major run to end the game and came out on top, 28-18. But for the athletes, coaches, and fans in attendance, the game was less about the end result and more about bringing people together and having fun. 

Leading the way in scoring for Big Rapids was Nick Borders with 10 points, while Tyler Lawton chipped in with eight points. 

“I didn’t even know I led the team in scoring,” Lawton said. “To me, it’s not about scoring or anything it’s about having fun and being back from COVID and being back with your friends.”

Although Grand Rapids didn’t get the victory, it didn’t take away any enjoyment of the event from the team. 

Grand Rapids coach, Sandy Marlink, said for the team it is all about going out and having fun rather than winning or losing.

“It was still a good time (even though we lost) and that’s what we told the kids; it was for fun and for a great cause,” Marlink said. 

Perhaps one of the most heartfelt moments of the event came after the game was over when fans lined up around the court to give all of the athletes high fives at the conclusion of the game. 

“Having the kids get introduced with the Chicago Bulls song and going around the whole court with the fans (was the most memorable part),” Marklink said. 

Moving forward, Strnad said focusing on getting more fans out to the event and creating more awareness would be a great way to continue to add to the environment of the game. 

By the end of the event, Rally with the Rapids ended up raising $2,046. All of which was donated to the Special Olympics Michigan, which gives children and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to practice and play sports year-round.